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Postgame Quotes: Big Ten Championship Game


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Dec. 4, 2011

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Postgame Quotes
Wisconsin vs. Michigan State
Big Ten Football Championship Game
Dec. 3, 2011
Lucas Oil Stadium – Indianapolis, Ind.

Wisconsin Head Coach Bret Bielema

MODERATOR: Coach Bielema, an opening statement and then your questions, Coach?

BIELEMA: Well, it's great to get here. I know a year ago after we got done with our Bowl season to know that we were going into a divisional play in the Big Ten Conference to be part of the Leaders Division. Knew this was an ultimate goal of ours to get to Indy.

Didn't know how or what was going to take place to get here, but very satisfying to get here especially after the two setbacks we had with Iowa State and Michigan State back-to-back. I can't say enough about the character of our kids and our coaches to get to where we are today.

Had a good week in practice, very unique thing, had an opportunity to play Michigan State twice in the season, never been done before in Big Ten play, in Wisconsin play anywhere. So a tremendous opportunity. Have a lot of respect for Coach Dantonio and his staff, his players are a tremendous football team and have displayed all year the ability to get here as well. So very excited about the opportunity.

With that, open it up for questions.

QUESTION: Could you talk about playing twice in a year? At this point you guys know each other. It's not like there's time to change a lot. How do things change schematically?

BIELEMA: I think in the Michigan State-Wisconsin game, you know it's going to be a physical game. Two teams that pride themselves on being physical, being able to solidify a run game, play good defense.

I think Michigan State's doing it in a little different way this year. They have a lot of short to intermediate passes where Cousins completes them. And they get a lot of yards after catch with their athletic receivers and running backs how they use them.

As far as playing the same team in the same year, it is what it is. I don't think there's been a lot of time thinking about what it's like. It's just, hey, we've got to get ready for this game. They had four more games or five more games after we played them, so did we.

So you know we'll take advantage of that film. They've had some players get banged up as well as ours, so there are certain things you've got to take into consideration.

QUESTION: There's been a lot of talk about Russell, the quarterback, but his character is impressive as a young man. Would you talk about him off the football field, please?

BIELEMA: Yeah, the question I've been asked repeatedly is what made you decide to bring Russell here. What Russell is off the field, it's easy for me to say that now. He's obviously a very good football player, but I wouldn't have brought Russell into this family if he isn't who he is. He's a tremendous kid. A young man of tremendous faith. Very guided in his personal life and his family life and what it means. I think that's why our players bought in so strongly with him so quickly.

To name him captain after he's just been on campus four or five weeks speaks to the volume of who he is, what he is, and what he stands for. It's been fun. As the year has gonna long, he's become more and more comfortable not just with our players, but at Wisconsin with the environment, with the people that surround our program, with our fan base.

He truly has embraced every minute of this year, and is going to be rewarded very much for it, because I know the NFL thinks a lot of him, and he'll get his tun when that time comes.

QUESTION: Staying on Russell, how many plays did you need to see him on film to convince you that he was going to be able to help you?

BIELEMA: I'll go back to Thursday Night Football. I remember watching him play on Thursday nights and Friday nights when we were locked up in the hotel room getting ready for games. So I got to watch him play live. When the first fax came across my desk with his name on it, what I tried to do is find out-- I didn't know anything about him as a person.

So we reached out. I personally don't know Coach O'Brien at NC State, so I don't usually in those situations ever go to someone I don't know. I ask my coaches on staff.

Dave Huxtable, our linebacker coach from Central Florida he played against him the last couple years. He said, dude, if you can get that guy, you need to get him. He's a one-man show at NC State.

So to bring him into our environment and show him the skill set around him. First off, our big, ugly guys up front. Those guys are the heart and soul of what we are. We paraded them in front of him. He really bought into them. And then to see Montee Ball and James White, Bradie Ewing at fullback, and then wide receivers with Abby and Nick, and Jake Byrne, and Peter Konz tight end.

He knew it wasn't going to be all on him. He could finally play in a system and distribute the ball how it was needed.

QUESTION: Are you or your team motivated at all to try to get Montee the record to break Barry Sanders?

BIELEMA: Well, it's out there. We've talked about it. You're not going to ignore the elephant in the room. Everybody understands where it's at. I think our kids took a lot of pride in getting the touchdown record from them in the Big Ten.

I know he gave many thanks to his offensive line and all the people that helped him get to where he is. But we're not going to-- we've never played with a game in that way, and we won't. As time goes on, we're not going to set up a score on the 1-yard line to let him get it. We're going to get things as they naturally come during the course of the game.

QUESTION: Since this is the first ever game of this type or whatever you want to say, do you stress to your guys that you can make history that everybody will remember who wins the first part as motivation?

BIELEMA: We've done that really since day one. Going into this year when we started the Big Ten Conference play, we had the non-conference schedule to get through, and really talked about, hey, every game matters.

In the division, not in the division, you're trying to get to that Leaders Division title and that will buy you a way into the championship game, and it's a chance to make history.

One of the first goals we talked about as a team is to embrace expectations and make history. We've done that to this point and hopefully we can move forward.

QUESTION: The stakes are high enough as they are Rose Bowl, Big Ten Championship, but with the frustration you've had against this team this year when you were ranked fourth and lost a gut-wrenching game, losing last year, does that play in your favor? Is that motivation a factor in this at all or not?

BIELEMA: Usually understanding where you're coming from with the frustration, the frustration isn't with Michigan State. It's frustration with not being age to capitalize on the things we normally do. Give credit to Michigan State and their ability to win the football game.

Even though it's well noted they won three out of the last four, all of them in East Lansing. I'm excited that this one's here in Indianapolis and on a neutral site.

I think it's probably a thing of respect. I think our kids respect Michigan State and the way they play the game. Hopefully that carries over and works in our favor on Saturday. So they have won the last two, so hopefully that momentum is about ready to swing.

QUESTION: Bret, with all the coaching changes in the Big Ten, you're quickly moving up the list in terms of tenure. Has it surprised you how quickly it's happened? What do you think that stability does for your program?

BIELEMA: It's something I kind of did, actually I hit Fitz up, Fitz and I were texting back and forth about something. I said can you believe you and I are 2 and 3 in the league now, I think, behind Kirk. It was Iowa.

It's a very difficult profession. I will say this, one of the things that intrigued me about coming to Wisconsin, when I was at Kansas State, I had a lot of different jobs come my way. We were very successful on defense. I had SEC defensive coordinator jobs. I had different things coming on my plate.

One of the things that intrigued me about Wisconsin was Coach Alvarez's tenure. He was 14 years or 15 years into it. It reminded me when I was at Iowa and Hayden was there so long, and the stability that they had.

That's what intrigued me to come to Wisconsin. And the fact that Coach Alvarez was the AD, I was so naive. I was young, dumb and naive, I guess, at the age of whatever I was, 31. I don't know how old I am now, I'm 41, so eight years ago. I was 33 years old, and I didn't piece together that, hey, this AD might hire his own coach some day. I didn't even think along those lines.

But I thought this was one of the schools where longevity could be attained because of the culture of the people, of the fan base that like you to do things right. We put good kids on the field. One of the reasons we battled back from where we are in those adverse situations, there are a lot of teams that would probably collapse and fall down. You see it all the time in college football.

There are so many teams that were highly ranked and they lose a couple close games and it's on a four or five game skid and our kids bounce back and play them as strong as ever.

I didn't really knowingly, but it kind of is, even last year when a couple guys got whacked, it makes you look around and take a picture of the spring of all the coaches that are in the room in the Big Ten thing, and that keeps changing. I keep getting older by the day just because of this profession, so it is what it is.

QUESTION: Given that you've talked about the programs being similar in a lot of ways than what you do. Is there any reason you can expect to put in a lot of wrinkles from when you last saw the two teams, or do you think it's going to be pretty much the same? Given the fact that most of the games have been high scoring in the last five anyway, any expectation that it won't be another one tomorrow?

BIELEMA: In an emotional game like this with very skilled athletes on both sides of the ball, I think it's easier on offense than defense. I think our defensive principles are probably a little bit more-- they run a lot more schemes and blitzes and some different coverages.

We're pretty much standard with what we do on defense. But I think offensively you always have wrinkles. You're going to see things that, hey, this is there, this is there. We'll take advantage and see if we can get this hit. I'm sure you'll see that with both offenses tomorrow.

I think special teams is going to be a big thing because you can take advantage of different things you've seen on film in all phases, both coverage units and both return units.

My guess is it will be a very hard fought game. The team that makes the fewest amount of mental mistakes will win that game.

QUESTION: Two questions, you talk about mistakes. In the first game it was kind of a nightmarish second quarter for you guys and you're missing touchdown opportunities in the second half. Given all that happened and you were still tied in the last few seconds, does that give you confidence? Have you shown tapes of those mistakes to your team?

BIELEMA: Yeah, I don't think you're going to have a problem with confidence coming out of our locker room. Our kids are very confident in what they're doing. For them to play as well as they did last week against a good Penn State team, I think Penn State had given up 21 points all year, we scored 28 by the half against a great defense. I think our kids will be confident.

Our defensive players are playing with a lot of confidence right now. I think special teams has rebounded and playing very well. I get where you're coming from, but I think our guys will go into this game with the expectation to win, and I think both locker rooms will probably come out feeling like that.

QUESTION: Any update on Peter Konz?

BIELEMA: No, we haven't practiced. We'll go out there today. He's been with us. He's done a minimal amount of things during the course of the week.

It's kind of at a place for us do we want Pete who hasn't been repping or Ryan and Travis who have done an outstanding job in the last two weeks. So we'll favor more on that than somebody that hasn't been in there a lot.

QUESTION: Considering how well the transfer of Russell Wilson has worked out this season, is that route something you would consider again in the future? Is there a danger of alienating your players?

BIELEMA: One thing I learned valuably in my early years is if I decide to accept a transfer, I'm overly critical of character and type of person I bring into that locker room because it's a little bit different situation. So I think that's at a premium.

I will share this though, because of the success of Russell Wilson, I actually believe I have been contacted for almost up to ten players now that would love or want to talk about the opportunity to transfer into the University of Wisconsin.

That's not really out of the norm. It's just been brought to life because of Russell. Usually you'll have four or five inquiries from different kids that want to be a part of this. Sometimes it's kid that's we've recruited in the past. Maybe they're at another school that they fell in love with and maybe fell in love with some smoke and mirrors and once they get there, it's not the same thing they thought they saw in recruiting and then they continue to see us have success. That happens quite a bit, I think.

QUESTION: Do you think that Wilson and ball have maybe negated each other in the Heisman thing? If you just had one clear cut--

BIELEMA: I've been asked that several times. I think the thing that they're both very, very good football players. I would say Montee because of the success and because of the touchdown record has gained momentum at least from what I've been told and what I've been kind of made aware of through Brian and the communication staff.

What Montee has done against good defenses is really incredible, especially with a lack of touches in the fourth quarter. In reality, I know he hasn't played in six of the 12, but about three of those he's put the stats together without playing a complete game, and really just playing at a high level right now.

I just keep trying to tell him how much better he'll be next year if he comes back. So that is a point of emphasis for all of us.

QUESTION: Earlier you mentioned that coaching can age you quickly and tomorrow night you'll be squaring off against a coach who suffered a heart attack after a game. So how much time do you worry about your own health and leave out your own health in a championship week like this with everything on the line?

BIELEMA: You can tell I'm in perfect shape (laughing). I take things a little bit just how I handle myself. I know mark over the years has been around him in different environments and seems like a guy that can have fun, crack a smile and have a good time.

One thing Coach Alvarez, I was working for him a year in transition, I was defensive coordinator, and he was head coach. We lost-- not lost. I'm sorry. We won a game at home against Indiana and they didn't have a great record and we were playing extremely well. We struggled in the game, but we ended up winning it. I was in the locker room and kind of upset.

I remember he came back and he said, coach, you got to learn to enjoy every win. No matter what happens, you've got to enjoy every win. I've really taken that philosophy.

Now thankfully we've won a lot of games, because during those two weeks, that was about the most gut wrenching, heart-- I was not a pleasant man to be around for two weeks, it seemed like two years.

I think it's up to each individual. Even when Urban came through with the ESPN crew, he did, I believe, our Oregon State game. We kind of just shot the breeze a little bit about coaching and different things that you can do to alleviate the stress. I think a lot of it comes down to who you're around.

There is that little saying you grow up-- I'm not saying I'm a highly religious man. But I remember a prayer, here's the church, here's the steeple, open the doors and here are the people. My grandma would say that all the time.

But what you're stressing about is it's not the environment you're in, place you're working, but the people you're around.

I've really surrounded myself with a staff that are some of my better friends in life and guys that I've become close to. To me, that's what makes me enjoy it that much more?

QUESTION: Since this is an unprecedented situation, how do you walk that fine line with these young men and not allowing their eyes to get too big for the stage?

BIELEMA: The one mantra we have in our program is one day at a time. Believe me, we want to win this game for all the right reasons, but it really is about the game. It's about playing Michigan State. It's about a chance to go out and play together in an environment on a national stage and embracing that moment for whatever it is, and to live it. We'll talk about it after the game, where we're at and where we're going.

But our kids never get wrapped up or caught up in the moment. They're in the now. Let's take advantage of the opportunity we have today.

QUESTION: What have you and Montee discussed this week?

BIELEMA: Montee and I discussed? Nothing out of the ordinary. Just football stuff. I think as far as towards a record or anything like that, no. I sit on a board, a panel that votes on All-Americans and it's not going to be released until Monday. But I told him where he was going to be on that release. Brought a smile on his face. I was able to shake his hand.

On Tuesday, I remember saying something to him that he was the only unanimous selection all conference by both the media and coaches. To be the only kid in our entire conference to do that is pretty special.

Kind of just said you earned every minute of it. Don't think that what you did is a normal thing. What you did is went out and earned the respect of every voter in this league, and that should speak volumes to him.

I'm always beating up Montee. Might be what he's wearing or how he's going about his business or what he's doing, but he's a great kid to have fun with. He and James White, two of the most enjoyable kids in our program. They're always walking around together and talking. Just routine stuff. College-coach relationship stuff, nothing out of the norm.

QUESTION: How has your team handled the expectation you feel all year long, and now once again you're favored to win this game?

BIELEMA: You could ask the beat writers that cover us every day. I don't see our guys unwavered in any game we played this year. Whether it's lost, the first loss against Michigan State or the second one that was gut wrenching against Ohio State. It's just, hey, this is what we're here for, let's go out and play.

There is a natural tendency to take people down a negative path after a loss, and the one thing I liked about my guys was that never happened. When they were asked how hard, Russell threw it back, this is the most fun I've ever had. This is the greatest environment I've ever played in on the road. That's what this group is.

They're extremely resilient and really do focus on the now. They're excited to get on the plane and have a chicken sandwich. That is what this group is like. They don't need all the bells and whistles. They appreciate everything that's given to them.

QUESTION: In your mind can this be a successful season if you don't win tomorrow night?

BIELEMA: I'd hate to have a ten-win team and never be considered successful. I think the levels of success, as you become better and better and as we've been here before, this is an environment that you have a chance to add a bigger name to what the legacy is of this team.

So I get it. I understand it. It would be very hard for me to be disappointed in this team, I'd say that.

QUESTION: Is Jared Abbrederis still part of, I think you called it your victory formation. And since the Michigan State game, do you practice against the Hail Mary more frequently or differently?

BIELEMA: Well, not anymore frequently. It's a rep that you take normally on Thursday's practice. I know we did it on a Sunday practice right after the Michigan State game, and Abby is still involved in that. And a little bit different things up front with the rush if it pops up. But we actually played it the next week against Ohio State again as well.

QUESTION: A lot was made of the player's only meeting after the two losses and how that spurred you on to the four-game winning streak. But after the Michigan State game, what did you do in your mind to say this is not going to be a devastating loss and we can move on from here?

BIELEMA: We didn't have a choice. We were playing Ohio State, on the road at night. There was no time in the world in college football to sit around and feel sorry for yourself. You have to giddy up, put on your big boy pants and go back to work. No ifs, ands or buts about it.

I thought our kids did a good job of buying into that. A lot gets said in the meetings. I didn't know anything about it. I found out about it later. It was nothing more than our captains saying this is what we're going to do and how we're going to do it. Player only meetings only get talked about if they work. So there have been quite a few that didn't work along the way sometimes as well.

QUESTION: Wanted to ask you about having the game here and playing in Indianapolis and your thoughts of the venue. I know you haven't been out in the field yet?

BIELEMA: I just drove by for a split second. Saw it, talked to Jim Sorgi who is a quarterback here for the Colts for a long time. And Sorgi gave me some really good insight to share with the kids over the course of the week. You know, I think it's a great thing. I actually-- I'm not the biggest basketball fan in the world, but I've come down to the Big Ten basketball tournament. When I was at Kansas State I used to love to watch basketball coaches work the sidelines. I just think it's kind of neat. I don't know anything about basketball.

You shoot the two and three, and free throws count for one. That's about the extent of my basketball knowledge. I've always thought that that game kind of had a neat feel toward that tournament. Obviously this has a nice little buzz to it. Obviously because it's a Big Ten Championship Game, but anybody that watched our first game, if you don't want to watch a sequel to that, I think I have a buddy that is usually very well known for his comments outside.

The one thing he said to me after the Michigan State game is if you didn't care who won the game, it was a great game to watch, which is not what I wanted to hear. But it made a statement to me that it was probably an exciting game for people to watch, and my guess is you'll have the same type of venue tomorrow night.

QUESTION: Were you in favor of playing the game here or soldier field?

BIELEMA: I would have been fine with playing it at Camp Randall. The home team, and whatever they did to qualify it with. But I think where certain schools and located and the possibility of bad weather this time of year, I would much rather have the game be decided because of the two teams that are on the field in a neutral site and great environment for fans rather than trying to put together a game plan that is heavily affected by weather.

So I would be in favor of that. Plus it's better for our fans. My fiance was excited it was an indoor stadium and she didn't have to worry about her dress for cold weather, so that's a good thing there.

QUESTION: How much is your offense looking forward to going up against the number one rush defense in the league?

BIELEMA: Our offense does buy into those things. We, unfortunately, have gone against some very good defenses here. Illinois, statistically, was as good as anybody. Penn State, obviously their numbers against the rush are outstanding. So in our league, we went against some really, really good defenses, and our guys took to that challenge last week more so than ever.

QUESTION: Keshawn Martin has been an effective player for Michigan State down the stretch here. He's had some plays against you guys. What is the key to defending him both as a receiver, ball carrier and on returns?

BIELEMA: Absolutely. To keep him in front of you. When we found failure in the first game against Michigan State, there was two things, a lot of leverage issues. Some balls got outside of our leverage in the passing game as well as in the run game as well as the reverse and stuff like that. But also to just keep someone in front of him.

When you're tackling him in the return game you need to get him going east and west instead of north and south. That is something they like to get going.

He's a very good football player. Obviously he does so many great things with the ball in his hands, but they do a nice job of scheming up some things to take advantage of his skills.

QUESTION: Coach, how would your offense have been different this season without Russell transferring in? Do you think you'd be here now without him?

BIELEMA: Just because I'm an optimistic coach, I'd like to think we could. But we've had some unfortunate breaks at quarterback. Really our two best quarterbacks should be the next in line. Curt Phillips hasn't been with us all year because of a third ACL tear, and Jon Budmayr hasn't been with us all year because of nerve damage to his throwing elbow. That took it down to red shirt freshman Joe Brennan who has only been with us a year and a half, and his back-up has been Joel Stave who we've been able to red shirt who came in last December.

I really think good things happen to good people. We were in a rough situation at quarterback and somehow Russell appeared. It got worse after Russell was here, because we expected Russell and Jon to compete for the starting job. I never promised to play the game, the first string position to Russell in any way, shape or form, he'll verify that.

But once he came on, and Jon Budmayr got hurt the first week in fall Camp, so that is the part that is probably the most amazing thing is we needed it to come through. I think we have so many kids of faith, I think Russell found us for the right reasons.

QUESTION: You talked about having a conversation with Jim Sorgi and playing in this building. Did you do much different in terms of preparation this week for it being an indoor game? Do you think that will have much impact on this game?

BIELEMA: We practiced inside. I think a couple of our guys think I tortured them by going outside too much. It was nice in Madison. We almost went outside on Wednesday.

We stressed hydration during the course of the week. Lot of stuff off the field. As the weather gets colder back in Madison, during the fall it's easy to stress those 80, 90-degree games how to hydrate.

But we've been stressing that all week with our guys. We did some crowd noise, obviously, but nothing out of the norm. Not really much you can do in this situation.

Just kind of get our guys, hey, it's going to be different. You're going to be in Lucas Oil Stadium and let's take advantage of the opportunity.

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